In a previous article
on WFH the creation of tomorrow’s policies and strategies with people working from home was explored and doubt cast upon its efficacy – especially when it came to problem-solving and creative tasks. Today there is still too little evidence to show if we can do this virtually. Administrative work may be easy, what about jobs that involve solving problems and creating new initiatives?
You are a problem solver
Dr M Kirton studied how teams made decisions to solve major problems. Then, he looked at the people solving the problems. This led to seeing predicable patterns in how people solve problems and deal with change. It became the theory of cognitive diversity
. Here is a simplified way to see cognitive style and how to harness this when you work on your own.Consider two styles of thinking on a continuum:
You may prefer to do things “better”. You are precise, methodical; concerned with resolving problems rather than finding new ones. You tend to accept the problems as defined. You prefer solutions that are tried, prudent, and sought in understood ways. You tend to create a few relevant, sound ideas for prompt action. This reflects an adaptive style of thinking.
You may prefer to do things “differently”. You are seen by some as undisciplined in your thinking; often discovering problems and solutions. You can produce lots of ideas, some may seem irrelevant yet you see long-term value. You challenge rules or break them to solve problems. Working on your own may feel easier; you can work how you want. This reflects an innovative style of thinking.
When working on a problem by yourself, step back from your first solution and try again with the other preference. In essence, use two idea strategies
Which is better? Most people are between these extremes. Your strength in one situation may be a weakness in another. It’s your strength and your bias. Understand your preference and the preference of others. When working on a problem by yourself, step back from your first solution and try again with the other preference. In essence, use two idea strategies:
1. How can a solution make it better? Improve the current approach
2. How can a solution do it differently? Create a new approach
Step back and pick the best option. Having two idea strategies are useful.
Have idea management processes
Good ideas must be managed over time. Stepping back from a problem for a day to reflect can help you define the true problem. Stepping back from a solution for a day is a research-proven technique that leads to stronger solutions. To implement our ideas, it takes a system to manage ideas over time, weeks or months.
The mistake we make when solving problems is defining the problem wrong the first time. Use these methods for self-discipline.
1. Define the problem correctly: am I asking the right questions to correctly define the problem?
2. Generate solutions: We can copy current ideas, modify similar ideas, or create new ideas. Start with potential solutions to the challenge. Step back to judge one or more ideas to take forward. Remember to use the better and different idea strategies.
3. Turn your ideas into plans: convert the solution into a plan to solve the original problem.
While digital tools are useful, the best tool for working at home is an idea journal or notebook. You are in the business of managing ideas. A notebook helps translates your notes from meetings into ideas, plans, and solutions. You can go outside to think or work. It uses a different part of your brain.
Knowing your cognitive style means you can work with people who think like you and those who do not. Understanding these preferences shapes effective teams. Make use of our differences as well as our similarities.
Online collaboration should not ignore decades of brainstorming experience. To collaborate on an important problem, several days before the meeting, the host should email:
• A problem or challenge statement with issues to introduce the problem. People should print it and used it for notes and insights during the discussion.
• Ask people to study the problem and prepare one or two ideas for the collaboration. This allows your brain time for idea incubation.
Perhaps the best tool to speed the process is Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats
. This article is too short to explain its full potential and it is worth reading the book. It can be used with the note taking or messaging function of online software. Start with an explanation of the idea to ensure everyone understands it.
• Use the Yellow Hat to ask: what is great about this idea? All contribute reasons why the idea is good for 45 seconds.
• Use the Black Hat to ask: what is logically weak about this idea? All contribute reasons why the idea may fail for 45 seconds.
• You can conclude with Red Hat reflection to decide if the idea is suitable or in need of refinement.
Many people feel exhausted with online meetings and there is much talk of wanting more ‘me’ time and these short, highly focused thinking processes are useful ways to stimulate creativity without endless meetings online or otherwise.
founded the Idea Factory to help people and organisations build and use a capacity to innovate. He is based in Canada.